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handmade Christmas

I'm pretty sure it is too early in 2014 to start complaining about how quickly time is flying. Particularly since it is New Year's Eve. I'm in the time of feeling totally exhausted and (deserving of rest) from a busy holiday season, not allowing myself to rest because of the momentous task of inventorying the store which still lies ahead, looking back at the year and wrapping up year-end paperwork, as well as looking forward to the year ahead (planning for Valentine's Day should have been done by now, starting to look at Mother's Day, summer tourist season.... oh, and then, there's Christmas again).  Sigh. It will be better once inventory is over. Right now I have a big list of straightening and organizing that I would like to do, including in my living room at home, all of which would have been nice to be done before the new year starts but that's not looking so promising at the moment. Instead I went home these evenings and worked on a jigsaw puzzle. But we did have a lovely Christmas day off and I wanted to specifically mention the handmade aspect of this particular year.

First, at the more or less last minute, I came up with an idea to embellish some sweaters for my sister. Since we spend the whole year buying things we like for the shop, I find that Christmas can be tricky - somehow it seems like cheating to buy something from here, but, of course, anything that I would have bought for her, I have often already purchased for the shop. I was inspired by a trip to Zip Dang. I DID purchase items, and I sent my mom there to purchase as well, but her altered sweaters mostly just caused me to think about what I would do differently (this happened with my skirts as well as I like mine with a little more swing and a little more variety of fabric). Now the big culprit of my living room's mess is the explosion of ideas that occurred: I got out all my lace and ribbons and hankies and vintage tablecloths, picked out some to add to sweaters, and got momentarily carried away thinking of sweaters to make for the shop. In the end, I used about 1% of everything that I hauled out, and now I really need to just put it away, or decide about some to make for the shop and keep another 1% out. Anyway, ta da!

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I sure had lots of fun with this project! It was satisfying to use some scraps that have been lying around and I am feeling quite clever for coming up with this as a gift. Sewing on buttons is a very tedious task, but I do love the finished effect and am glad I commited to the work. I think it really adds a lot to a thrift store sweater to have contrasting buttons.

Meanwhile,  I think the biggest thrill for me this Christmas is that my niece, now 6, really threw herself into the making of gifts. Growing up, our mom was always really insistent that we participated in the giving as well as receiving - starting with helping Dad to pick out gifts, but also developing into us making or buying our own gifts. She was always quite clear that Santa brought our stocking presents but that the rest of the gifts were exchanged between ourselves, and for me, the joy of giving has always been a big thing. This year, my niece started early, picking out some presents, and I realize now that her quizzing me about the soap in my bathroom was precursor to her gift, which shows a level of thought that I appreciate.  She also worked on making presents for various people which was particularly fun, even though I'm totally jealous of the space ship she made for her Dad. I got various shapes of pasta from Fraboni's and we spent an afternoon making a few of these macaroni collages. I'll admit that I'm biased, but I think she did a great job!


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a few of our favorite things. day 25/25. gratitudes.

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I had a moment a week ago when I got bogged down with the idea of reciprocity and fairness. To give you a little context, there are only the two of us Komai girls and fairness has always been a big deal. I have a friend with three siblings and she maintains that in a family with more than two children, there just isn't time to think about even distribution of goods. So apparently they didn't spend as much time cutting cake into even slices as we did. It is possible, then, that the particular circumstances of my personality and upbringing lead me to be especially picky about such things, and not necessarily in a good way. Which leads me in occasional moments to get stuck on the matter of fairness. Like, does the time and work that I put into something get returned evenly by the recipient? Like, isn't it annoying when it isn't? Like, how do you compete when the playing ground isn't exactly even? and so on. I'm not saying this was a proud moment for me, I just wanted to give you the context.

Of course, there's nothing like a six-year old to point out the error of your ways - specifically this one crying in Old Navy when we found shirts with My Little Pony and Frozen on them in sizes up to 4T but not in her size. "It's not FAIR! I hate little kids!"  Ah, yes, focus too much on what some people get that you don't get and you end up crying in the middle of Old Navy and hating little children. It's a slippery slope.

What snapped me out of it? Well, first, I have been working on my Christmas letter and focusing on gratitudes. It seems like I've heard a lot lately about how focusing on your gratitudes can have a positive and multiplying effect. It's something I have to practice very deliberately - perhaps that will come more easily in time. Even though it is easy to get caught up in the millions of dollars being spent on Amazon and at WalMart, on people with long vacations, on business owners with huge houses, I return to that Frank Llyod Wright quote I found a few weeks ago, about the truth of my life (not the facts and how they compare to others'). Second (only in terms of timing), my very dear friend who is always good at putting things in perspective and snapping me out of things came for a visit and generally got the ball rolling - it was just after her visit that I found that Frank Lloyd Wright quotation. And then just last week I learned late in the week that she had spent most of the week in the ICU. And I just have to say generally that I really did think that I was doing well with the whole gratitude thing and I'm not sure I really needed the reminder of our mortality and fragility and the very temporary nature of our presence here on earth. But apparently I did, that and a reminder of how trivial all my concerns about whether or not we have enough or too much to sell, if the scaffolding down the street will hurt sales, if the weather is going to cooperate, if the store is doing better than last year....  So, yeah, everything is better for my friend, more or less, than it was last week but some little part of me can't seem to stop projecting forward - not just in gratitude and joy, but in fear and sorrow (oh my gosh... what if it had been worse? what if I ended last week without my dear friend in my life?!). Makes one keenly aware of all that one has. We have been particularly fortunate this year - our Dad made it through surgery, my dear friend is alive. I don't know if this is a matter of just being older, but this year there seem to have been filled with more sorrow and loss than I remember in the past, making me more aware of the people who are not here for the holidays, though I still maintain that the influence of those people lives on forever. I can see how it can be particularly painful in the Hallmark-esque moments of the season, to be confronted with ones own sorrow and loss, to be celebrating without father/mother/daughter/husband this year. Unfair. Fair.

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But how easily do we let ourselves get distracted by the trivialities of life - by the sparkly lights and shiny things? I think it is particularly easy in the world we live in to see all that you don't have - to be witness to riches and see all that will never be yours; to wonder in a little corner of your mind if that $1000 bottle of wine is really that much better than your $20 bottle, and if everything is exponentially better all. the. time.  Of course, a lot of people would be happy with the $20 bottle. Obviously, it is useful to come back to the awareness of everything that one has (and perhaps how others would consider it so very unfair that you have what you do) and particularly all the presence in ones life (not just presents). Unfair. Fair.

And then add on top of that is this season of giving, when I'm running around happily finding gifts for our very small family, but when I am also witness to the people coming in - some happily and some not.  There are lengthy conversations that I overhear about what a person would like, what they need, if a person is settling, how maybe a $5 card is "too much." A big issue seems to be those people who are hard to buy for - Dads seem to be a big culprit - or the person for whom all of my suggestions are met with negative, and what is really needed is more of a therapy degree than a geography or retail background. Or the people who are shopping for presents all the while knowing that the one person they really want to give a present to will not be there to celebrate. The root of the problem lies beyond my ability to help. Of course, when it gets right down to it, aren't we really just trying to find a material object as a token of all that we have received, which is more than we can possibly match, materially speaking? Is that why it is so hard to find a gift for some people?  

If it IS a matter of fairness between individuals, do we ever really repay all that we receive from our parents? from those who have been with us in our sorrows and pains? from our dear friends who bring so much to our lives? And if it is a matter more generally of fairness, can you ever repay THAT? I see now that "pay it forward" is not just a matter of niceness, but of necessity - a way of generally being generous in ways that are fair and unfair at the same time. Of knowing that you can't exactly pay BACK all that you have received, but that you can be generous going forward, creating those very moments of un-reciprocated generosity in someone else's life. Fair. Unfair.

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Because, really, what else do we have? If I repay all my customers for what they bring to my life then... what? I owe them the money they spent at the shop and then some? How do I give back all that I have received? A person could get totally tied-up in trying to even the score.

ANYWAY, this is all a really long and meandering way of saying that the best gift of this season, of the entire year, is the gift of everyone who is in my life - my dear friends, my family, and you, my customers and fellow creators. Being able to work at Anthology is a tremendous gift - to create a meaningful job for myself, to work with my sister, to deal with all the challenges and gifts of being a business owner. And to all my customers who make my work possible - how can I return the gift? Hopefully when we each stumble upon our life's calling, we are met by people who can cheer us on, who can connect with us, who can appreciate the work that we are doing. Perhaps it isn't the same people who you do that for, but somehow it all circles around, and it's a lovely thing. Fair, even.

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Now I must note that what intially snapped me out of my wallowing was that visit from my dear friend and a reminder of my little notebook that I keep by my cash register. I keep it there all the time, and I tell everyone that they should have such a book of their own - and even though I know it is there, sometimes I forget it is there, but I cracked it open last week looking for a quotation for my Christmas letter. And I was overwhelmed with happiness. This little notebook holds an assortment of things I have overheard or been told, compliments about the store. I call it my warm fuzzy file because an geology professor from long long ago had advised us all that we should have such a file, filled with letters of recommendation and other compliments. He was preparing us for life as a woman in geology, but it works as well for me as an introvert in retail. It's quite useful.

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And so I come back to my most favorite thing, the best gift that I have received on this day of giving. My life, the life of all the people who are in my life, the lives of people I have been able to influence and inspire - all the more so because of having Anthology and not just hiding out in my livingroom/studio making things. Thank YOU! We wish you the happiest of holidays and enjoyment of all the presents/presence of your life.

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They left me with your shadow, saying things like Life is not fair & I believed them for a long time. But today, I remembered the way you laughed & the heat of your hand in mine & I knew that life is more fair than we can ever imagine if we are there to live it. Story People by Brian Andreas

a few of our favorite things. day 24/25. Madison map.

Shop133 146I wonder if we are the only people who give sheets of wrapping paper as gifts? Well, I think this map, as well as our others, would be great not just wrapped around a gift but as the gift itself. After pestering various vendors, to no avail, we worked with a local graphic designer to come up with this version of the city map. In addition to being used for wrapping paper, I know at least a few customers who have framed it for their wall, or used it to decorate a desk- or table-top (just slide under that glass top). I know it is partly the geographer in me, but I really do love the imagery on maps - I find it very artful and inspiring. Someday... someday... I will get around to my vague idea of some map-based collage (or even quilting, though it is hard to compete with what other people are making).

By the way, Merry Christmas Eve! We're open until 4 pm today, closed tomorrow, and reopening on the 26th at 11 am.  I'll save the full holiday wishing for the next blog post, but I hope everyone enjoys a happy night-before.

a few of our favorite things. day 23/25. washi tape.

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It's hard for me to say how much I love washi tape. It's really a good thing this didn't exist when I was younger - I would have gone through a LOT of it. As it is, I like to use it for our paycheck envelopes, on my journal pages, on notecards, for garlands. I am trying to use up some patterned wrapping paper that is lingering way too long but otherwise I would wrap everything in kraft paper and make a little washi tape decoration. If you are on Pinterest and search washi tape, you will find a zillion more options. If anyone you know is even the slightest bit crafty, I would highly recommend washi tape as a gift. Even if they don't think they will use it, it is pretty easy to find a use, and then it can be used up and won't be one of those things sitting around wondering what you should be doing with.

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We're having a bit of a Dear Abby etiquette debate here at the shop. Unfortunately in the rush of packaging things for a customer yesterday, the actual item slipped out. So, the customer walked out with an empty gift bag. As soon as we discovered the mistake, we went to our neighbor shops to try and find her, but she was gone. We refunded the credit card charge BUT we're just imagining what Dear Abby would say. "Dear Abby, I received a gift from a friend but when I opened it up, the bag was empty. Did it fall out as I was unpacking? Should I just lie and tell her the gift is lovely?"



If you are the person who purchased this bracelet on Saturday, or if you know who it is, please give us a call or email. We are hoping you live close by so we can just drive the bracelet to you in time for the giving. Alternatively, we will mail it to the recipient along with our mea culpa. And if you receive an Anthology gift bag (one of our small clear plastic bags with tissue inside, tied with a ribbon and our gift tag), and it is empty, please don't hesitate to tell the giver that you think we made a mistake and that we'd love to fix it.

Here's hoping this situation is resolved happily!

a few of our favorite things. day 22/25. repurposed book journals.

Shop133 149Not to brag or anything, but the artist who makes these says that we sell among the most of any of the stores he sells to. They are certainly very popular for us! These book journals have been repurposed from old books (don't worry, they were destined for the garbage bin) and have blank pages, as well as some of the old pages from the book. It is always fun to hear people sorting through the books, reminiscing about their childhood favorites, or stumbling across one they had forgotten or think would be perfect for someone. And, anyway, who doesn't need more blank books?

a few of our favorite things. day 21/25. Wisconsin charm.

Shop133 144This little charm was a happy serendipity when we traveled to New York last spring. After the trade show, we walked the High Line Park down to Chelsea Market, where there was a pop-up fashion/accessories show. There was a little booth doing a brisk business in charms of all sorts and we were rather excited to find this little Wisconsin charm. Since then, we've been busy making them up into necklaces and earrings (and yes, they are available on their own). The rest of the materials come from Galena, Illinois, including what they call a flower charm... but we all know what they meant.... I also made some stamped charms with "home" "friends" "love" to add to the necklaces. They have been quite popular with the college kids so if you are wnating to give someone a memento of their time here, or a memento to take on their time away, we would definitely recommend this.


a few of our favorite things. day 20/25. Nikki McClure

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There are a handful... well, a very large one, of artists whose work I admired and collected long before we opened our shop. Nikki McClure is one of those artists. I have an old notecard I bought from Pop Deluxe, from her early days (pre-color) - the woman lying on her back looking up at the sky which eventually became the Gravity print. It totally reminds me of the writing of Antoine de Saint-Exupery... something about being lost in the desert and looking up at the vast sky.

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She was also one of the first out of state artists whose work we brought to the shop and her prints remain very popular with all sorts of people. Notably (because that's the one gift category that seems to give more than me trouble, her images are often popular with men). There's a great graphic style to her work, it seems initially like it might be a linocut but she actually works with paper and exacto knife, cutting away all that is not black, and then making them into prints. My understanding is that she started out producing an annual calendar, but then branched out into notecards and prints. The prints we have are based on calendar images from previous years; a few of the images from this year will be converted into prints but that doesn't usually happen until a few months into the following year.

Shop133 153We have her calendar, notecards and prints, as well as a few of her journals and children's books. I've always thought the notecards could be framed and made into a very interesting series for a wall, if I could find space on mine....

a few of our favorite things. day 19/25. ornaments.

Shop133 141As I know I've mentioned before, we have a nice assortment of Madison and Wisconsin ornaments this year. We really worked this year to build up the collection. Sachi is still madly sewing her Wisconsin cheese ornaments... but, once again, she probably should have started sewing in July. At least this year we have a wider array to offer you, including these lovelies from an artist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin who hand paints each ornament. Our laser-cut ornaments of the Madison skyline have also been popular, so much so that we had to get a last-minute shipment from Spring Green (an advantage to sourcing products so close at hand). All that said, if a particular ornament is on your wish list, I would recommend calling or stopping in sooner rather than later. People keep buying six at a time, making me realize that I underestimated the quantities we would need.

a few of our favorite things. day 18/25. messenger bags.

Shop133 142We love these messenger bags! They have been a bit of a surprise for us as they seem to appeal to a very wide range of people - they are not just for college kids. They come in an assortment of colorful fabrics, made by a pair of artists in California.

And, yep, that's all I've got for today. Really, we just hope that you can stop downtown and see all the goodies that we have for you to choose from.